Shenandoah Nat'l Park

VA Farm Bureau



View current page
...more recent posts

The Hermetically Challenged Moon Afflicted Mute
- jimlouis 6-28-2007 3:01 pm [link]
- jimlouis 6-23-2007 5:57 am [link]
How Many Sir?
I felt emboldened by the location of the national chain restaurant, a joint advertised for all my life as a hip and friendly and fun place to eat. And not just for the those who mistakenly saw themselves as terminally hip, but for the whole family. Situated as it was across from the new Target in a small but growing Virginia town, I was able to convince myself that it would not be as all out a frightening experience as I remembered from 30 years previous, in Dallas, where the branding of hipness, while not a new thing, was still in its nascent stages as applied to chain restaurants. There was back then the incentive for employees to be individuals, within a strictly defined framework. This forced individuality was as often as not demonstrated badly, and left you nodding and smiling at people you neither agreed with nor felt friendly towards. These Virginia country employees would be from a simpler--and therefore in my mind, better--stock. They wouldn't be so perky and eager and annoying and robotically friendly. There might be bits of hay lodged in the cuffs of their pants. And the training manual would have gone through its necessary maturation process in 30 years. Time had made some fun of the original model. I was arriving early to beat the lunch rush. There was no hostess at the hostess station. The air felt sticky. There was a bar to the left and the room was gi-normous, made for a crowd. It was by itself bigger than many restaurants. I caught the bartender's eye. He was no fresh faced youngster. His skin was etched with the creases of a life lived outside the box, a life that did not proceed along the lines laid out in manuals. His eyes told tales. We acknowledged each other, two old gunslingers, one who would pour drinks for the next several hours, the other a bit lost, lacking definition, not even sure where he had left his gun, who came only to eat, before shopping next door for a washer/dryer combo.

How many sir? I'd been flanked. There is only me, I said. It struck me that those were the first words I had spoken out loud in four days. I should have practiced. You can't get through life just nodding, or, when forced to speak, blurting out oddly phrased bits. I could have said, I am alone, but frankly, the melodramatic is rarely appropriate. I will be dining by myself young lady. No, absolutely not, that would not work, I am an aging gunslinger, not a proper English gentleman. I think, "just me" would work (should there ever be a next time), delivered with sincerity and a dash of understated optimism. I was seated at a table for two, where I could only hope the extra seat would not be temporarily used by the wait-person, my long lost best friend just stopping by to rest a spell and take my order. He would in my nightmare spin the chair around backwards and fold his arms across the seat back. Is it any wonder I cry out with regularity in my dreams--"shit!"

Actually two waiters showed up and politely battled for the right to serve me, each in their own inimitable fashion.

I was handed a menu by the winning waiter and then he disappeared. The menu was responding to the sticky air by being sticky. I don't think it was unclean but I wasn't ruling that out. There were so many choices and the choices had catchy names that made me pause and wonder, and then cringe. I would choose to not join, to be apart from this hip and fun national chain, by ignoring all these choices and ordering a cheeseburger and fries and ice-tea. My waiter came and I wanted to get down to business. I wanted to skip a step. I only wanted to eat and skedaddle, I did not come for the "experience." He wanted me to have one of their signature margaritas, but failing to convince me that a margarita before noon was a good idea, still wanted me to wait before ordering. He would bring my tea first and some silverware. I said thank you. He came back a few minutes later and asked me if I had decided, knowing damn well that I had decided three minutes ago. I was not angry. He was a nice kid. I placed my order and then stared at the ceiling, and the fixtures, and inspected some nearby caulking. Have you been waited on sir? I have, yes I have, thank you, I said. I continued to inspect my immediate surroundings with what I think appeared to be inexhaustible fascination. Until I exhausted myself and was forced to stare down into the depths of my being. Everything all right sir? (Uh, I don't know, isn't it? I don't really feel qualified to answer that question, I mean everything? Are you kidding? Is everything all right? I should say not, but...), Oh yes, fine, thank you, I said.

Finally I glanced over at the only other guy sitting in the section. I did not make eye contact, but nodded, internally, it's just you and me fella.

My food came, thank you, I said. Yes, you will be the first person I let know if I need anything else, yes, I will, thank you.

It was all edible.

What? Oh Lord, huh? Yes, I'm good, thank you.

A drill sergeant came up the isle and while passing barked, how was it, sir? I squeaked back at her, the best, thank you.

When the waiter brought the check I gave him a twenty before he could put it down on the table. I will be right back with your change, sir. He brought the change and informed me that he had rounded off the bill in my favor. What could I say? I said, thank you.

I stood in front of the washers and dryers, paralyzed. I opened up each washer and looked inside and felt nothing. Was I supposed to feel something? I did not know. After awhile I began to worry that a salesman was going to approach me. I had used up every iota of my self just having lunch. I would not be able to engage with anyone else today. A pity really. The machines were all so shiny. This was in a big home improvement store so I just wandered off and looked at a wide variety of items. After roaming the same aisles repeatedly I realized that it was unlikely that I would buy anything that day so I just came home.
- jimlouis 6-21-2007 2:31 am [link]
Scientific Fact
Eh-uh-yeah-r I have partially filled a quart ziplock bag with water and nailed it over the main doorway coming into the cottage, to deter flies from entering the house. It is a proven scientific fact that the shear absurdity of such a tactic will scare away not only flies but timid human beings as well. There are many theories on why doing this will keep flies and timid human beings from entering your home. Or I assume there are. I don't really know of a single theory that explains it convincingly, nor am I even remotely curious enough to search for a so-called answer on the World Wide Web. I can though say this: every time I pause and think about that bag of water over my door I want to flee this house and distance myself from the foolishness it represents. And but for my loyalty to the law of inertia I would. As backup I possess both a fly-swatter and an attitude which on occasion can be tolerant of flies and other pests.
- jimlouis 6-17-2007 7:37 pm [link]
Fox In The Hayfield
Similar to a guerrilla farmer watering weed off the grid, this last week before the rain I was hauling trash cans full of water in the back of the Polaris (which is like a 4-wheeler on steroids) out to the hay field behind the bocce court to water 5 newly planted 15 foot tall willow oaks. I was siphoning out the water using 10 foot sections cut from an old garden hose. There is a Zen-like quality to time spent in a hayfield under the late afternoon sun waiting for water to drain from a fifty-gallon trash can into a heavy mulch ring around the base of a willow oak tree. Bernadette joined me on one of these trips and I went pssst but she could not hear me. Hey, psssst, I said again, making barely any noise at all. Clearly she was ignoring me in favor of staring off under the late afternoon sun into the near distance at a small cemetery on the property's edge. As it was fairly important news I risked all by raising my voice, and said, hey Bernadette, there is a fox, and when she said where I said right in front of you. It wasn't really right in front of her. It was about 10 feet away and to the left. We were both very still. The hay in the immediate area surrounding the five trees was pretty well beat down. We weren't hiding from the fox and the fox wasn't hiding from us. It was hot, sunny and still. Bernadette had brought us mint juleps and the ice in them melted while we watched the fox, first come closer--close enough at five feet away to scare me a little--and then move away to the mulch ring of another tree, a safe distance of twenty-five feet or so, where it commenced to lollygag, nibble on shredded bark bits, and do playful swivel-hip maneuvers in the new soft and smelly bedding.
- jimlouis 6-15-2007 5:00 pm [link]
- jimlouis 6-13-2007 4:02 am [link]
In A Whiz Bang Blur
In North Carolina at an antique store I bought a branding iron with the two initials that are most often associated with Bernadette when she exists outside the role of my fictive travel partner through hellfire and damnation. The Jeep aged three thousand miles in these last ten days. Bernadette joined me for the last 1700 and now we are leaving each other alone for a brief period of time here at this imaginary world known as Mt. Pleasant. To Texas and back and beyond in a whiz bang blur, only stopping briefly for a wedding and then after, still suited up, the U-Haul in Garland for a 5X8 enclosed trailer which we drove through a Dallas rush hour into the heart of Lake Highlands, where we loaded up the last of the personal belongings attached to my Texas upbringing. A good friend was storing these things for the last year, in his house. I don't truly love stuff and have mixed feelings about stuff. As words go, stuff is a great word for stuff. Stuff almost exactly describes how I feel about my stuff. In a moment of pique at the wedding reception I had told a brother that I might not even rent a trailer and would just set my stuff on fire, after of course first removing it from my friend's house. There is no reason my friend should suffer the incineration of all his lovely possessions just because I suffer from stuff ambiguity anxiety.

We stayed the final night at a somewhat worn out Hampton Inn in Addison, Tx. and headed out in the morning. Two nights before, Bernadette had gotten to see a trio of quintessential Texas Barbie's working the hostess station at a nearby trendy Mexican joint a block up the road from the motel. Different people say different things about what triggers memory. Some say it is smell, some say taste, but for me there is nothing like the visage of a Texas Barbie to trigger those emotions that remind me of being uneasy in Texas.

We stopped in Hope and started to look for Bill Clinton's house. I had not looked for it three days previous but then at the same time we came to the same conclusion and just said "I think we get the idea," and went to the barbecue place for lunch. And drove. On the road I loaded up a plastic spoon full of pecan cobbler and handed it to Bernadette, the driver of record for this stretch. Hmm (not mmm), that is sweet, said Bernadette.

Took a quick look at Little Rock but nobody was home.

Zipped through Memphis and sometime later stopped in Jackson, Tennessee and stayed at a place that had a pool and wifi but only a partial bottom sheet on the bed, and a certifiably suspect bathroom with a tub faucet that dripped heavily into a stained tub and had only two small towels, haphazardly stacked on a metal wall rack.

We went to a sports bar near the motel for ice cold beers and a burger on Texas Toast. We could not say for sure but there was just the faintest hint that the establishment was a gay bar. A sign out front said biker's welcome which for all I know is a well known euphemism for gay is okay. I was wearing a Paul Smith fitted shirt and was perhaps the gayest looking person in the place (if you kicked out the "biker," the "musician," and the country gentleman sitting to my right) and therefore possibly the inspiration for some other tourist's "I think we walked into a gay bar" speculation. The man to my right was a cotton gin repairman from Seymour, Texas and I had a teenage memory from Seymour which involved cases of beer the night before a high school junior varsity basketball tournament and this memory I shared with the man. Bernadette quizzed him about cotton gins. All the while the Yankees prepared to beat the Red Sox in extra innings, on three large screens. Bernadette thinks the male bartender called me ''hon" but I am not sure that that is what he said. Still, to play it safe and maintain that essential balance of correctness I deem essential to my concept of correctness, I contributed to an upper end tip pool just like I would if it had been a female waitress or bartender calling me "hon.," which I am on record as saying is a thing I like.

Arrived at Arnold's in Nashville around 10 the next morning and walked around the mostly industrial neighborhood while waiting for it to open at 10:30. That was some good food. We had liver and onions and fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy and collard greens and corn off the cob and chocolate cream pie and lemon cream pie and sweet and unsweet iced tea. You could probably get by with splitting one of those desserts though.

We stopped and bought 230 dollars worth of fireworks before leaving Tennessee and just before that I bought a brittle 1872 collection of Robert Browning poems with an upside down fly page at an antique store in Kingston, for nine dollars. Bernadette bought two more rug beaters. Much later that night and almost close enough to make it home to Mt. Pleasant I got grumpy enough to want to strangle Bernadette, for no reason really, so we got a room and food and a martini in southern Virginia and she did not suffocate me with pillows in my sleep, which I think would have been justifiable.

Arriving back to Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday afternoon and maintenence work to last year's ambitious landscaping project was occurring. It became quickly obvious that this current project was becoming a bit more ambitious than just maintenence, my Latino brothers from last year were all back, and staying in the cottage, so Bernadette and I bunked up in the Tower Room at the bighouse. Guests were reportedly coming the next day or the day after and I was feeling a little cramped so after doing a few chores we jumped back into the Jeep and headed to North Carolina.

On the way we tooled around Charlottesville for awhile.

Right after parking on the street a man walked up to me and said we should go to the Sally Mann exhibit, which happened to be a block away. But we did not do that. I could not remember who she was but Bernadette reminded me (that she is--the provocative photographer), and as I am barely able to handle the provocation of everyday life I chose to be disinterested and Bernadette, pretty well smothered by art in NYC, also chose, at this specific point in time, to be disinterested. We mingled with the hordes on the historic old town pedestrian mall and then made a couple more required stops before heading off to a farmhouse outside of Lynchburg, where we had dinner with two cats, several beagles, and a couple of New York ex-pats, one of whom had beaten the major league baseball pitcher, Roger Clemens, three times, at pool, in a bar. I had to admit that that was a pretty cool accomplishment but could not resist telling the young woman, I bet you could not hit his fastball.

We were on our way to visit a former NBA basketball player and his wife and two kids residing outside of Burlington, NC.

I own, with a friend, a small house off a gravel road on two acres about forty-five minutes northeast of there, which I have not visited, or maybe have visited once, since leaving it in 1994. We rent it to a former house painting buddy of mine. We have settled on it being okay that they make only about nine of the twelve monthly rent payments each year. By doing this we are buying them the majority of their Christmas presents every year, a thing we do despite never receiving a thank you card.

So that's where Bernadette and I stopped first, the old forgotten rental property, on our way to visit the former NBA basketball player, after of course stopping at the tank museum in Danville, VA. If you only go to one tank museum in your life, go to the one in Danville.

My rental house is in a rural area in northern North Carolina not exactly in the middle of nowhere but close to exactly in the middle of nowhere. The house is off of highway 49 and I wasn't sure I would be able to find it but after zigging down back roads from Danville and finally intersecting 49, I immediately recognized the area and as it turned out we were, thanks to the navigation of Bernadette, only about 400 yards from the gravel road leading to the house at its end.

The house on the left looked the same and the vacant wooded lot on the right was just as I remembered it. All of the several properties on each side of the road were neat and tidy and well cared for, with the neat and tidy of the year award going to the house across from mine, at the end of the road on the right, formerly owned by the neighborhood busy body and possibly now owned by her heirs. It looked like it had been completely done over and was a shining jewel in this modest rural one street neighborhood, a neighborhood by itself butting up to thousands of undeveloped acres of hardwood forest and farmland and the occasional tobacco field.

Behind the large pontoon boat in my front yard and across the beaten down dead lawn, came running four barking boxer dogs and an albino boxer puppy. There was stretched low to the ground what appeared to be a hot-wire and the dogs would not cross it. I could not tell for sure if they were angry dogs. They appeared to be uncertain about me as well. There were no cars in the driveway but there was one or two rusty ones on the edge of the woods. A vintage swing set occupied the space in the front lawn not occupied by the pontoon boat. An extra boat was over by the woods by the abandoned cars. It did not look like it had seen anything but rainwater in a long time. I cannot describe everything else that was in the front yard and side yard because I am now a few days later moving slowly towards denial. I did not take pictures because I knew instinctively that I would soon be needing to move toward denial and the pictures would be a hindrance to that trip.

The slumlord merit badge was mine. And every neglectful act of my entire life was now compressed and formed into a totally hokey, not altogether believable white trash movie set. I could not though take my eyes off of the scenery, if for no other reason than that there was so much of it, so much detail. Then, like a low budget commercial break to an even lower budget made for TV movie, up the road came a slightly overweight teenage boy driving a golf cart. And he pulled into the driveway.

It was my old painting buddy's son. He was still in his mamma's belly when I had left, 13 years previous. He was a reticent boy, polite, but of few words. And scared of me it seemed. I tried to comfort him by saying I was an old friend of his father's but that, if anything, only seemed to make him feel worse. Then I dropped the bombshell--actually, I own this property, I said, and that seemed to also bring no level of comfort to the boy. I asked him if I could look around a little and he mumbled something which I took to be assent even if it wasn't. As it turned out the barking dogs were bootlickers and they followed us around as I headed to the backyard, and beyond that to the ten thousand square foot garden, which was nicely maintained. Bernadette was waiting in the car and the boy had that attitude like he was in the principals office so I made this first time in thirteen year visit a short one. I left him a piece a paper with my name and phone number on it and said goodbye.

On the way to visit the former Olympian and NBA player I worked out in my head the required first steps towards kicking my old friend and his family out on their asses. So I have that to look forward to.
- jimlouis 6-10-2007 9:14 pm [link]
A Coma In Hope
The Indian man was going to show me the room before I agreed to stay because he said there wasn't a non-smoking room and I was about to leave because of it. When I asked for a non-smoking room he hesitated long enough to make it seem like there might be one but it was becoming pretty obvious that non-smokers probably stayed elsewhere in Hope, Arkasas. I followed him around the counter and out the glass door and did not once stare at his wife sleeping on the couch. I was giving her that much privacy. The sound of the baby crying in the room behind the counter followed us out the door.

He opened the room wide and it stank a little and then he opened the one next to it and it stank a little too, but sweetly. I said probably this one and he giggled nervously and said he had sprayed some smoke spray. I asked him how much and when he said 29 dollars I just nodded like, oh, what the hell can you expect for that price? Ok, I'll take this one I said.

Driving earlier in the day and I had become tense so I pulled off the highway and did a little shopping at Walmart. I don't know where. If I say Tennessee does that help? I bought a 10 dollar pair of black jeans. And some fishing lures, about 20 dollars worth. And one lightweight green rain pancho. And a vegetable cup with ranch sauce. And a fruit cup with unrealistic tasting cantaloupe and honeydew, two pieces of seemingly authentic pineapple and three grapes which I thought might have come from a laboratory but I wasn't complaining because they were delicious and crisp.

I asked the motel owner where I could find a Laundromat there in Hope, Arkansas because I wanted to wash my new jeans He asked me what time I wanted to do my laundry and I had to admit that I wasn't sure. That's what he was hoping for because he wanted me to know that there was a 24 hour Laundromat in Hope, near the Taco Bell. I said that sounded great.

That's not where I went though. I headed off in that direction but then did a sudden U-turn--there is after all no law against it, unless there is a law against it--and took a right on N. Hazel and wandered aimlessly through what appeared to be a section of town specifically reserved for black people, which as luck would have it, also had a Laundromat, at the corner of D, across from the church. I went in there and asked the first woman I saw if there was soap for sale and she grunted and pointed to the far corner. I got a box of Cheer for 50 cents and picked a washer that I could only hope wasn't a loser but how are you going to know until you know. I think I had already stretched to the limit any good will I was going to receive at this Laundromat and besides, how would you phrase that without sounding like a complete idiot? Um, excuse me again ma'am, but is the a good one? Or perhaps, Uh Yes, Could You Tell Me If This Machine Is In Good Working Order? Or maybe, Hi, I'm new here, what's your favorite machine? I decided to just mind my own business, the business of washing a single pair of jeans, and picked up a local advertising tabloid. I was struck firstly by an ad placed by a man looking for swarming bees. He wanted to give them a home.

I got tired of waiting and reading advertisements so after checking that my machine was in fact working well enough, I took a drive up Hazel and very soon came up on The Bank of Hope, which is out of proportion to its surroundings or to the point is the biggest fucking bank I have ever seen in a town so small.

I quickly finished my sightseeing and went back to wait on my jeans. The dryer was stingy with heat so I was there awhile. A toddler kept passing in front of me, back and forth, and I would have engaged her but I didn't want to get yelled at by the mother, or have the toddler get yelled at because of me. I continued to mind my own business. On one pass the toddler did a little pose and to no one in particular practiced her "whatchu lookin' at" delivery. Staring off into that distance beyond the glass front door where maybe there existed a young man acting fresh, she said, with considerable spunk and attitude--"whatchu lookin' at." And smirked. I think she was happy with the delivery. I know I was.

Later she came back and picked up the newspaper I had put in the seat next to me and I whispered, yeah, go ahead and take it. She carried it over to the floor in front of her mother and began taking it apart and spreading the sections out all around her. When their laundry was done the mama yelled, pick up that paper! and she began picking it up and wadding it such as her tiny hands were capable of doing. The baby girl got all the pieces gathered up and she was almost invisible behind the now hovering mass of crumpled paper. Put in the trash! her mother barked. She was standing at the midpoint between two trash cans and she started off for the one nearest me. But her mother barked again, and she paused, and then started back my way. I was hoping to get a good look at the earnest expression on her face as she performed this task but her mother barked one last time and pointed to the can closer to her. They left shortly after that and so did I.

I got a rib plate at Uncle Henry's Smokehouse, near the motel, and took it back to the room. Rated best barbecue in Arkansas according to the sign on the door and I don't know how much competition they are working with there but it was some good, and inexpensive. The ribs were fat with meat and the potato salad was right on and there was nothing wrong with those beans. I could only finish three ribs before my belly puffed out and then I was on the bed watching the women's softball World Series. In a matter of minutes I descended into a rib plate induced coma and was not seen or heard from again for the next 10 hours. The next morning I awoke and noticed there was no soap in the room but I took a shower anyway. I had breakfast at Sheba's before hitting the road for Dallas.
- jimlouis 6-03-2007 5:58 pm [link]
Until I Came To Hope
As if you didn't already know this, there was no bacon at the Deluxe Continental Breakfast at the luxury business suites motel somewhere near Nashville. There was however a covered tureen full of sausage gravy that had its own silver ladle and a stand for it and looked pretty alright, pristine even, at 5:30 a.m. with only me and that other grumpy malcontented Boomhauer mumbling early rising guy slopping gravy over our dry biscuits, but I would not want to be at the later end of that breakfast because oh Lord the disgusting things that would run through my mind just looking at that sausage gravy-caked ladle after 5 hours of use, and the gravy would be splattered all over everything because people staying here are taking a vacation from raising their children. Also I had a sweet roll and some apple juice. No coffee. I already had coffee in the room. I was going to leave but instead got up the nerve to try the do-it-yourself Belgian Waffle maker. I read the directions while pouring the Styrofoam cup of mix over the hot griddle. It sizzled. Close the griddle, check. Spin the griddle upside down and wait two minutes, check. An imbecile could make these waffles. I tore off and folded large pieces of the butter and syrup soaked grilled dough and poked them into my wide open mouth with a white plastic fork. I had another apple juice, picked up an orange for the road, and beat it for the already packed Jeep out front.

I took the loop around Nashville and about midway to Memphis stopped for gas. While standing there I could see off in the distance a billboard that said I Love You and it was signed by Jesus Christ. I contemplated briefly the legal ramifications of signing somebody's name without their permission. Under I Love You it said Come To Know Me. I thought that was a little provocative but good advice just the same. I took a picture of the sign. There was a MacDonalds attached to this gas station and a sign in the window that said free wifi. I pulled around back and posted the picture. Then I drove towards Memphis with its ill-conceived and notably bad interruption of Interstate 40. The Peabody Hotel was visible in the distance, from the elevated interstate. I saw the ducks on TV once. A glass pyramid on the river is also visible. Half way over the Mississippi River bridge leaving Memphis you enter Arkansas.

In Little Rock there is a very big Pentecostal church.

I ate the last of my toasted peanut butter crackers from the Lance Corp. And a slice of orange. A chunk of beef jerky. A sip of water. And a Dentyne Ice. I stopped being on mountain roads somewhere after Nashville, I noticed somewhere near the exit for Hot Springs, Arkansas.

I headed off for Hot Springs but then turned around and got back on Interstate 30, frightened by the audacity of my decision making.

On the XM radio I moved between Bluesville and Fred. Fred was for a while featuring the year 1978, which was the last year before I took to dropping out earnestly. I remember a lot of buzz about the Talking Heads back then. When not listening to those two I was at 164 listening to old time radio. The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Dr. Kildaire, Sam Spade, a Ray Bradbury story, stuff like that.

I thought I might just make it to Dallas and be there a day early and I would eat Mexican food but then I decided on Texarkana which was a solid goal until I came to Hope and that is where I stopped.
- jimlouis 6-02-2007 2:24 am [link]
- jimlouis 5-31-2007 6:18 pm [link]